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Let’s discuss anxiety again

The stories and struggles of people experiencing anxiety are becoming more and more prevalent. How interesting that this word ‘anxiety’ has become so much a part of our vernacular when not too many years ago, people believed anxiety was the domain of others – never themselves – and shied away from any anxiety related personal disclosure. I’ve written lots about anxiety in the past but I feel it’s time to raise the topic again.

It’s always important to remember that anxiety, is in reality fear, our natural defence mechanism. However anxiety unmanaged can cause huge distress, becoming symptomatic in two ways:

  • Stress-induced anxiety is the reaction that happens when challenging life problems give cause to worry. This is when sleepless nights, feelings of overwhelm, high tension levels, increased blood pressure, headaches and palpitations lead the individual to seek ways to calm down. Usually anxiety symptoms at that level do eventually calm down as the stress related problem is resolved and so people are restored to ‘normal’ and continue to get on with their lives.
  • But acute, chronic anxiety is another matter. This is when people experience all the above symptoms plus many more such as hyper-vigilance, panic attacks, avoidance, phobias, obsessions and compulsions, eating disorders, fear and terror, self-harm and depression – and potentially a diagnosis of mental illness. Like a flow on from stress-induced anxiety, this is the level of anxiety that occurs when challenging life issues set the ball rolling but leave deeper, concealed or denied existential issues still unresolved: the lack of personal fulfilment, unrelenting loss and grief, a faulty relationship, a negative self image and so on … intangible issues that may need careful investigation. This kind of anxiety is life limiting at the very least and at worst, a huge personal burden to carry.

In all this, it’s evident that relief from anxiety remains confusing to many and unquestionably an area in need of support within the community.

So what to do? When anxiety at either level is diagnosed or otherwise identified it may be thought that relief can be found in the same way the flu can be dealt with. But anxiety is far deeper than contagion! Anxiety is part of human existence, part of our life experience and hopefully, part of learning to grow. So it can be really helpful as a starting point, to begin to accept that some level of anxiety helps keep us safe.

Next – and most importantly – is to find a way to reduce the intensity of surrounding feelings and symptoms. Nervous tension is the primary force behind insistent symptoms and as it reduces, the unpleasant symptoms decrease. Tension is like an acceleration of activity within the nervous system – with no idea of how to apply the metaphorical brake! Tension is usually a habit developed in a bid to cope with the ups and downs of living. And of course, tense families produce tense progeny and on it goes until someone breaks the cycle. To successfully reduce nervous tension takes understanding, recognition and assistance from another who has the skills to impart effective change. Hypnotherapy, therapeutic meditation sessions or reputable relaxation classes are the premier ways to be assisted in reducing nervous tension.

And finally, best of all in the end, is the development of a positive attitude and the courage to begin to discover and truly know oneself – the dark side as well as the bright side – through self exploration or the guidance of a mentor or therapist.

I’m reminded now of a lovely story that I recently heard from one of my clients. Accompanied by a few tears Kay recalled how her much loved Grandma had passed away at 96 following a fall while dancing! And so we talked about the happy spirit of this lady and within some other anecdotes, Kay reflected on further memorable moments. “Sometimes I’d phone Grandma and find her a little bit overwhelmed by day to day events but her attitude was always amazing. She was ever an inspiration but perhaps her most often repeated words if I happened to call at a difficult time were the enthusiastic “I’m having a terrible day – but I’m having a wonderful life!”

That is an attitude we could all do well to cultivate, too. Life can be challenging but it’s ultimately rewarding.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
May 2018